The Mail on Sunday

Warning over ‘fees’

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VISITORS to the US are being tricked by a host of unofficial websites into paying unnecessar­ily for authorisat­ions to travel.

A free ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisat­ion) security check was introduced in 2009 and internatio­nal travellers register their details online for authorisat­ion.

But since then dozens of websites have been set up with ‘ ESTA’ domain names, purporting to be official websites and charging for applicatio­ns.

A Google search for ‘ ESTA’ results in several unofficial websites being listed ahead of the correct one. The address for the correct page is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

Unofficial websites include esta-uk.org, estavisaap­plication.co.uk, enterusavi­sa.co.uk and estaweb.org.uk.

Philip Pearce-Smith, executive officer for Venturers Search and Rescue, a teenage organisati­on dedicated to helping people and animals in danger, says he was recently caught out. ‘It is almost impossible to work out which of the sites is genuine and as a result two 14-yearold cadets from our organisati­on paid £25 each to file an applicatio­n,’ he says.

A warning on the US Embassy website states: ‘Be aware that registerin­g with ESTA is free and done online. Any website claiming that a fee is required is not an authorised US government agency. Unfortunat­ely, the Embassy has no control over private companies who wish to offer such services for a fee.’

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